Identifying the signs of toxic or manipulative behavior while dating

It can be a challenge to see the signs of toxic behavior when you first start dating someone, especially if things seem to be going well. After all, who wouldn’t want to be told they’re wonderful and a dream come true?

The beginning of a relationship is a great time to assess the other person’s behavior to make sure they are showing up as authentic instead of putting on an act to eventually take away your power.

It’s an important subject no matter where you are in your relationship. Transcript follows.

Today I want to go over the signs of dating a toxic or manipulative person. This is for people that are just starting to date or have been dating a few months.

This will help you identify certain red flags during dating that give you a clue of how the relationship is going to turn out – if it’s going to get any better, or is it going to get worse? Is it going to become emotionally abusive or manipulative or toxic in any way?

Now with a list like this, you have to look at the bigger picture. Before I go over a few of these warning signs or red flags, you have to be aware that just because you have one flag doesn’t mean it’s a bad relationship, or that it’s going to be toxic.

It just means you might have something to talk about. Or there might be a flag that was kind of under the radar, but you knew about it. But you weren’t sure if it was going to get any worse. So maybe this list will help you out.

So here we go, I’m going to share the signs you’re looking for while you’re dating. This can apply to established relationships as well, but this usually happens at the beginning of a relationship.

Dating Red Flag #1: The Over-Delivery of Kind Behavior and Gestures

One of the red flags that I like to tell people about is “over delivering”. This is where love-bombing, gift-bombing, compliment-bombing, servitude bombs (I’ll explain these in a moment), fulfillment-of-your-wildest-dream-bombs, and anything else that you find amazingly wonderful – like no one you’ve ever met – will do to you.

Love bombs come in many forms but just imagine someone going “I love you so much. I love you, I love you.” And they’re complimenting you and they’re telling you how beautiful you are. This is near the beginning of a relationship when they don’t know you as well as somebody would a year or five years or ten years down the road.

It just seems like it’s an over delivery of compliments and love. And there’s other stuff too like gift bombs when they are gifting you things, giving you things, sometimes in the form of money but usually in the form of gifts.

Too many too soon!

Anything too soon can be a sign. You just have to be aware of it.

Compliment bombs. Very similar to love bombing – they’re complimenting you, “I can’t believe I have someone so beautiful as you. You’re just amazing in every way.”

In the beginning of a relationship, is all of this really true?

I mean, they could be so enamored with you, yes, it could be true. But look at this in a bigger picture. If this was just someone who said something like that every now and then, but it’s not part of a bigger picture like the rest of this list, then make your best judgment from that.

So those are compliment bombs. How about servitude bombs, when they’re doing services for you? They’re overly helpful, like, “Let me get that for you. Let me do that for you. Let me wash the dishes for you. Let me wash your car for you.”

It almost seems like you don’t have to do anything. It sounds like a dream come true! it really does. But you have to be careful because this kind of stuff too early can be a sign that it is turning into a toxic relationship, or at least an unhealthy one in some way.

And finally, the last one “fulfillment of your wildest dreams.”

Whatever you want to do, they want to do. And they want to make it true. They do their best to make it true.

They show up as the perfect person in so many ways, and they over deliver because they want you to find them totally irresistible like no one you’ve ever met.

The problem is if they’re like no one you’ve ever met, then you haven’t actually met them yet!

You don’t know them. You don’t know who they are underneath because that kind of behavior usually usually has a finite period of time.

And you’re usually better off getting subtle clues. Instead of this type of over delivery. A subtle clue can be “Hey, I really enjoy our time together.” That could be direct, but also subtle because underneath, they may want to say “Wow, I love spending time with you. I miss you every second of the day. I can’t wait to be together again,” but they’re approaching it carefully. They don’t want to scare you off.

And they don’t want to also jump to conclusions in their own mind that ‘This could be great, but I don’t want to rush anything. I just want to see where this goes and see if this person is still interested in me.’

You need to gauge it as you go along. You just have to watch out for over delivery because it’s often a way to make a relationship move faster so that the other person can gain control as soon as possible. That’s why over delivery can be very unhealthy:

It might lead to someone wanting to control you.

And that’s what we want to avoid. We don’t want somebody to take our power away and control us so that we can’t be who we want to be  and make our own decisions and do what we want to do.

I’m going to talk about that a little bit more in a minute too.

Dating Red Flag #2: Their Sketchy Communication

The next red flag to look for while dating is sketchy communication. When they’re interested, they will reply to texts, they will call you back, they will be there when they say they’re going to be there. They won’t ghost or breadcrumb you.

Ghosting is when someone disappears for long periods of time, or even indefinitely. They’re simply not on the radar. And then you’re left wondering what happened to them hoping they’ll call you again.

Breadcrumbing is when they seem so genuine in their pursuit of you. They keep reaching out, they keep in touch, and maybe even connect with you once in a while, but they never seem to commit. They conveniently forget to show up.

They can tell you they’re going to buy tickets to a movie but then they create some excuse when you’re all dressed up and ready to go like they had something come up just coincidentally. They leave a trail of breadcrumbs that you keep following, but the trail never ends.

They’re horrible at commitments and what they say they’ll do never aligns with what they actually do.

Ghosting and breadcrumbing can happen often in tandem. They (the person you’re dating) disappear, then they send you a text out of the blue.

Both ghosting and breadcrumbing are extremely toxic. Don’t be victim to either for too long. Demand of yourself someone that says what they’re going to do and actually wants to spend time with you and follows through in a congruent way. Meaning, what they tell you their intentions are actually turn out to be what their intentions are.

They walk their talk.

Dating Red Flag #3: Their Bad Reaction to Your Independent, Self-Empowered Behavior

The next red flag to look for is how they react to self-empowered behavior. Toxic or manipulative behavior is almost always associated with some level of control and power over you.

That’s why it’s toxic: It’s behavior that doesn’t allow you to be your true self, which is a major component of self-empowerment.

If you want to see someone’s toxic behavior, all you have to do is show them your independence. Someone who cares about you and wants to support your happiness is going to support you doing the things that make you happy.

For example, if you want to spend time with friends or family, they’re not going to make you feel guilty for it. They’re going to support you. And they’re going to want you to continue to nourish and nurture yourself to show them that you aren’t drawing from them as if they are your only source of positive energy.

You have a life and it doesn’t become all about them.

That doesn’t mean you don’t spend a lot of time with them or even get really close to them, but you need to test how they’ll support or not support you making decisions for yourself. Especially decisions that don’t involve them.

Truly supportive, non-toxic people want you to do whatever makes you happy, not what allows you to fall into a trap of control.

If you want to go visit your family on your own, and the person that you’re dating begs you to come and makes you feel bad for not bringing them along, note the red flag and just be aware of that behavior from that point on.

Dating Red Flag #4: Don’t Dismiss the Truths They Share in the Beginning

The truth is often spoken right at the beginning of a relationship.

  • When they say that they’re hard to get along with and you don’t see it, you’re wrong.
  • When they say sometimes they just get angry for no reason, but you can’t possibly see that in them at all, you’re wrong.
  • When they say, “I tend to get a bit jealous,” and you think it’s cute, and think they couldn’t possibly mean they become excessively jealous, you’re wrong.

Look for these tiny, seemingly innocent comments in the beginning and don’t shrug them off.

Talk about it with them. Get them to expand on what they mean. Ask them in a nice way, not in an accusatory manner. You want to hear their explanation.

Many times truths are spoken right at the beginning of a relationship. But if we become so enamored with someone, we may brush it off. We’ll think it’s cute.

Or we’ll think maybe because they admitted it, it won’t come out in this relationship because it’s as if they’re referring to the past and not the present.

You want to look for healthy comments, comments that show that they’ve actually learned from their mistakes. Something like, “I used to get so jealous, and I realized how much that hurt the relationship and especially the person I was with. I had to work on that and finally realize that I was only jealous because I was so damn insecure in myself.”

Something like that will show that not only do they admit they had a problem, but they actually learned a lesson from it. And, they felt bad for making the other person feel bad.

That can show empathy and caring.

But if you’re not hearing lessons learned (which also involves taking responsibility for their behavior) then just know that the behavior they’re stating is going to come up in the future and may be a big issue in your relationship.

This is just something to be very aware of while you’re dating. If any of these seemingly innocent truths come out, you want to put your thinking cap on. You want to put your reflective cap on too. You will benefit if you step outside yourself, outside the relationship, and look at things with a clearer head.

Look at things while you’re not in them. It’s very helpful to get clarity by taking a step outside of the relationship – by taking a few steps outside yourself – just to have a third person point of view. Even though it’s your own point of view, because it helps you to elevate your thinking in a way so you’re not in this enamored falling-in-love, falling-for-the-other-person state of heart and mind. 

It’ll be very helpful and also scary, because sometimes you won’t want to believe what you’re hearing or seeing. Sometimes you won’t want to believe it so you might go into a denial and brush it off.

We have to be very careful about that. You don’t want to get into a state of ‘I’m just brushing things off,’ because anything that you brush off comes up later. And it’s better to deal with it now so that you can figure it out. Ask yourself: 

“Is this going to be the relationship that I want, or is it going to turn into a nightmare?

Dating Red Flag #5: How They Treat the Waiter Will be How They Treat You One Day

The final dating red flag that I’m going to share is one of my favorites. This is something my girlfriend highlighted to me because she was able to see it in her ex, which is how they treat the waiter, or their mom, dad, family or their ex, can often be an indicator of how they’ll treat you.

And of course, this is in the absence of any lessons they learned about themselves, about who they used to be, and healing or growing phase they went through.

In other words, what I talked about earlier, where they might say something like, “You know, I used to be jealous, and I learned so much and I found that I was insecure…” that was a learning process for them and it sounds like they healed through that and realized how much they were hurting the relationship and the other person.

This red flag, where they treat the waiter badly, or their mom badly, or a member of their family or their ex… anyone that they treated badly which they don’t take responsibility for, when they don’t give you any sign that they’ve learned their lesson, or that they need to heal or that they felt bad about the way they behaved, you just have to be aware that that’s probably how they’re going to treat you one day.

Keep this in the back of your mind (or the forefront), because it’s important. If you see them mistreat someone else, that means it’s in them.

And if it’s in them, it’s going to come out in the relationship. Again, unless they’ve healed from how they’ve behaved in the past. But if you’ve actually seen this behavior in them, then it’s still in them.

But don’t allow this flag to include friends. Their friends don’t count in this list. How they treat their friends… friends are different. They aren’t usually the subject of control or dissension. That’s why they’re friends! And friends almost always treated differently than those in closer relationships.

People who are abusive in relationships are often fine, in fact they’re even golden, with friends. That’s why friends can’t often tell what’s going on in a relationship.

Friends can’t see what you see.

If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s emotionally abusive or toxic in any way, friends are not going to see the same side of your partner as you are.

Your partner can show up to friends completely differently. But when it comes to close family or their ex, those are the ones that usually know the person best.

The more poisonous a person is underneath, the more they’re going to want to control the people closest to them. This helps control other people’s perceptions of them. Control their perception, and you fool them into making them think you are something you are not. 

If you’re a manipulative or controlling person, you’re going to want to fool people so that you gain support. You’ll want to control people in many ways in fact because if you don’t, your true self will be discovered.

That’s scariest place of all for a toxic person. It leaves them exposed to the world and they feel completely defenseless. They don’t allow that, so they choose instead to control and have power over others. And close family and ex-partners are usually the ones that know them best. Family and ex-partners know their vulnerabilities, and they’re the ones who are subject to the most control and power.

Keep an Open Mind While Following Your Heart

I don’t think there’s a perfect path to dating success, because there are a lot of variables. But I do know that when you’re dating, sometimes you need to stop for a moment and reflect on what’s been happening to make sure you aren’t blindly following your heart.

I know we’re told to follow our heart but don’t do it blindly. Quite frankly, there are too many unscrupulous people out there that know how to pull at your heartstrings. And as long as you know how the game is being played, and what the signs are, you won’t fall victim to bad behavior. Or, at least there’s less of a chance that you will.

I understand if you want to be close to the person that you’re with. We all do. You don’t want to have to be hyper-aware of the signs of manipulation, you just want to believe that everything is going to go well and everything is going to be great.

All I’m saying is: Don’t ignore the red flags when you see them.

There’s nothing wrong with taking things slow and figuring it out as you go along. And love what’s going right!

Then question yourself about what doesn’t seem right and you’ll get the relationship that works for both of you instead of one that works against you.

Share this with others that might benefit.

Love and Abuse is the official podcast of The M.E.A.N. Workbook on manipulation and emotional abuse.

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